Continuing His Service

Published: September 27, 2019

Experienced in defense as well as offense, Chowdhury gets set for a new game

Queensborough Community College alumnus Shaniyat Chowdhury still wears the crewcut he had in 2011 as a Marine, but the John Jay College graduate is now on a different public service career-path, focused on policy-development, advocacy and community action.

“I think my combined interests came together here at Queensborough after Hurricane Sandy, when I was interning for Dr. Lana Zinger and working with kids on community health, nutrition and climate change issues,” says the 27 year old, who enlisted in the armed services soon after finishing 12th grade at Information Technology High School in Long Island City.

Queensborough Community College alumnus Shaniyat Chowdhury

He had cousins in the Army and Air Force, but Shan (pronounced Shawn, which his friends call him) chose the Devil Dogs and became a Corporal and Field Radio Operator.

“I walked into the recruiting center near Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst and the officer -- in his uniform and full of medals -- drove me to my house that day and spoke directly to my parents,” he recounts, still surprised at the speed at which authorities accepted his enlistment.

The oldest child of Muslim, Bangladeshi immigrants, Chowdhury and his family lived in Detroit and New Jersey before making the NYCHA South Jamaica Houses home, after suffering losses in the financial crisis of 2008. His father also attended John Jay. His sister is studying there, now. Mom grew up in Queens.

“Our parents always instilled in us the value of a quality education, no matter what,” he says, “and the Marines, Queensborough and John Jay were all excellent.”

“In the Marines, I did a lot of self-reflection and dug deep. It made me work harder, be more proactive and more responsible,” explains Chowdhury, also a semi-professional footballer. A winger, fullback and five-year veteran of the USA Rugby League’s Brooklyn Kings, he will play in an international tournament in Sydney, Australia, for the Indian Jungle Cats later this year.

As a member of the military, Shan frequented the Veterans’ Lounge at Queensborough and benefitted from the college’s extensive services and programs that assist service members.

“I spent a lot of time in the Medical Arts building, studying,” adds the Marine Reservist, who majored in Health Sciences at the time. He was a first responder to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in The Rockaways, which received a pounding from the extraordinary storm surge and heavy winds.

“I worked with so many different people there devastated by Sandy and was able to call on that experience later, when I worked with school-children on the realities and local impact of climate change,” Chowdhury recalls.

An unofficial motto of the Marines is to improvise, adapt and overcome. Also applied by Chowdhury on the rugby field, he embraced the theme in college classes and as a campaigner and staffer for U. S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“A lot of my interest in community engagement is rooted in my upbringing and the disparity between power and corporate money and the people,” he explains, having strengthened his interest in government at John Jay College, where he attained a degree in Law and Society and gained experience by working with New York State Assembly member Latrice Walker (Brooklyn).

“My time in Albany was really inspiring and enlightening and caused me to become more active in my community and issues such as jobs and affordable healthcare.”

Chowdhury finished his Queensborough courses in 2016. He misses the Bayside campus. It felt like home.

“I felt attached here. I had such a good experience and got so much great advice from faculty and staff. Sometimes we can focus solely on obtaining a degree…. I didn’t know, at first, how much Queensborough would actually contribute to my personal growth.”

Shaniyat Chowdury’s is running for New York’s 5th Congressional district.

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Contact:  Alice Doyle and Mike Donahue

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